Eddie Jones (pictured) and Australia must defeat Wales to avoid their first ever World Cup pool exit. Photo: Getty Images/Chris Hyde
Eddie Jones tried his hand at contrition on Friday. That didn't last long.
The former England head coach began his press conference with a profuse apology for Australia's run of six defeats in seven matches in charge, including last week's defeat to Fiji, due to they need to beat Wales on Sunday to avoid their first ever pool stage exit to the World Cup.
He looked sullen, almost wizened, as he explained his team's selections, including the omission of young halfback Carter Gordon, having previously said that anyone who knows anything about rugby knows dozens “need” time in the chair.” His answers were short and concise. “I let Australian rugby down,” Jones said. “I did not do the job for which I was invited. I was invited to change the situation, so I feel this responsibility.”
Yet Jones and remorse mix as easily as oil and water. When criticism of his selection came from David Campese and Drew Mitchell, Wallabies heavyweights both symbolic and literal, a spark was ignited. Suddenly there was a sparkle in Jones's eyes. The mischievous grin returned too. After taking some early blows, it was Jones' turn to come out of the fight. “I have no doubt that we will win on Sunday, no doubt,” Jones said, adding that he is “100 per cent” confident the Wallabies can still win the World Cup.
Suddenly the apology lacked the sincerity it once had. “Like I said, I apologize for the results, I can get on my knees and do a Japanese trick if that’s what you want?” Jones said, referring to Dogeza's Japanese etiquette. “I can’t apologize anymore, guys. I'm sorry we didn't do better, but all I know is that what we're doing is right for Australian rugby.”
This is reminiscent of another famous fake apology from UFC fighter Conor McGregor, who said : “And I would just like to say from the bottom of my heart: I would like to take this chance to apologize…to absolutely no one.”
Indeed, you get the sense that Jones relishes these situations, that the worst-case scenario of losing to Fiji and your two most important players in Will Skelton and Taniela Tupou almost relieves a certain amount of stress because there is little else that can go wrong.< /p> Australia have been hit by injuries to captain Will Skelton (pictured) and prop Taniela Tupou. Photo: Getty Images/Chris Hyde
“When you coach, you make a choice to put yourself in those positions,” Jones said. “If I didn’t want to put myself in these positions, I could teach. I could lead a nice life and get up every morning. My wife puts a packed lunch in her bag, puts on a shirt and tie, knows I'm going to teach six classes, comes home, washes the dog, washes the car, watches Channel 7 or ABC news, and then gets a packed lunch. ready for the next day.
“I could do it, mate. But I made a choice in favor of a coach. I love winning and I love the challenge of trying to build a team where everyone thinks they're going to lose in order to put themselves in a position to win. I don’t know if it’s a drug, but it’s my coach’s impulse. You get more people when they smell blood. We have 10 times more people here than we normally would at an Australian press conference because people can smell the blood. This makes the game even more exciting.”
A more prudent coach might have reflected on the decision to leave behind Michael Hooper in the open field after Fiji drilled the Wallabies at break-time, and Quade Cooper in the fly field with Ben Donaldson having just started. his second Test in the number 10 shirt in the decider against Wales in Lyon. Not Jones, who doubled down on his decision to throw overboard those old heads he subtly nudged onto the bus.
“I'm not trying to make myself look like a saint, but sometimes you have to make difficult decisions to get further results,” Jones said. “We need to create a new group of players with higher standards of training, higher standards of behavior and higher standards of expectation. That's what we're trying to do, mate.”
St. Eddie does have a certain ring to it, although as with some Christian icons, there is quite a bit of historical rewriting going on in Jones's interpretation of the past. His own mandate was to win South Africa, win the Bledisloe Cup and then the World Cup. This fits very well with Jones's modus operandi as a short-term operator.
Now, with two of those targets thrown in the bin and the other hanging in the balance, Jones is positioning himself as a long-term team builder that will lead to howls of laughter among some former employers. “I don’t know of any team that you could go to and ruin the magic,” Jones said. “You have to go through the process and figure out what's wrong with the team. And then you have to try to solve these problems. So, I'm sitting here very comfortable and I feel like I'm doing the job that I have to do.
“We're trying to build a team that makes dreams come true in Australian rugby. We're not trying to be a mediocre team. If we're trying to be a mediocre team, there are other things we could do. We want to be a really good team, but to be a really good team you need some pain and setbacks.”
Will Jones stick around to continue this rebuild? Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan put much of his reputation on the line by defending Davie Rennie to bring in Jones this year following his own sacking from the Rugby Football Union. “Well, there will be a review at the end of the World Cup,” Jones said. “And given our results, maybe Australian Rugby won't want to keep me. This is the reality of my work. And I understand that.
“On Sunday I want to train as well as possible. That's all I can say. At the moment this is the only job I have.”